Hillary at face value


IF THERE is one subject that has Washington buzzing wit gossip, it is Hillary. Is it true that she and Bill can't stand the sight of one another? Alternatively, is it true that she is Bill's Svengali, calling all the shots from behind the scenes?

Some conservatives are engaging in such arid speculation. Liberals, on the other hand, are at pains to present Hillary as something other than a liberal. "Hillary is completely unideological," the Washington Post quotes one of her staffers as saying. The Post seems to endorse this sentiment, gushing that "She has goals, but they appear to be so huge and far-off -- grand and noble things twinkling in the distance -- that it's hard to see what she sees."

The Post profile emphasizes that labels simply don't fit Hillary -- that, for example, she supported parental notification for abortions at one time in her career. So what? Her husband once opposed federal funding for abortions. So did the vice president. Ask any of them where they stand on the Freedom of Choice Act today. But Hillary comes from the Methodist religious tradition, the Post continues, a world view that stresses thrift, simple living and social reform. Fine. The Berrigan brothers are Catholics.

But the real howler in the Post profile is this description of Hillary's involvement with the Children's Defense Fund. "At Yale Law School, after meeting Marian Wright Edelman, her politics didn't change so much as her focus. She discovered that being an advocate for children's rights was a better -- 'more effective' -- way of continuing her interest in helping the poor."

The Children's Defense Fund is one of the most liberal lobbies in Washington. It favors every big government program on the books and then some. Saying that Hillary's service with the CDF is no reflection of politics -- beyond wanting to help children -- is like saying that joining the staff of National Review (as I did at age 22) was evidence only of a desire to sharpen writing skills.

For the Post to present Hillary as some sort of mystery woman, whose views cannot be accurately measured, is silly. Why not take the Clintons at their word -- that they work as a team?

The flap over children's vaccinations was revealing. First, the Clintons misidentified the problem. Noting the low rate of infant immunization among the poor, they concluded that it must be the result of the high costs of vaccines and proceeded to take pot shots at the pharmaceutical companies -- practically accusing them of profiting at the expense of children's lives.

But high cost is not what keeps some parents from getting their kids immunized. Eleven states already have free vaccination programs, and rates of pre-school immunization in those 11 differ little from the rates in states without free distribution.

The Clintons then presented a solution (since rescinded under pressure) for a problem they didn't understand. The federal government would buy up all the vaccine in the country and distribute it free to public clinics and private physicians.

Now this is the kind of thinking you find only on the big government left. The federal government can make things more efficient. It's a view that makes ordinary Americans laugh. Irresponsible and ignorant parents would doubtless continue to neglect their children's health, and upper-class parents would receive an unnecessary, expensive benefit from the government, further increasing the deficit.

The Post profile says the first lady is sketching a "new politics of meaning" for America. Something about "inclusion" and

"communitarianism." She worries about a "sleeping sickness of the soul" (Albert Schweitzer's phrase) and longs for "higher purpose."

Beware a crusader for lofty goals who cannot get basic facts straight. If Hillary doesn't understand a simple public health problem like why so many kids go unimmunized -- then God spare us from what she has planned for our souls.

Mona Charen writes a syndicated column.

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